Posts Tagged ‘McFaul’
Amid the public furor over the State Duma’s proposed ban on U.S. adoptions, many seem to have overlooked the fact that the so-called “anti-Magnitsky act,” which passed the lower house of parliament on Friday, would also place harsh new restrictions on non-governmental organizations.
Unlike the adoptions ban, the new restrictions on U.S. funding for certain groups haven’t sparked pickets outside the Duma, and tens of thousands haven’t signed online petitions opposing them.
But human rights leaders say the rules are a further tightening of the screws on civil society organizations, which have been pressed in recent months by new laws that expanded the definition of treason and required certain groups to classify themselves as “foreign agents,” which all major NGOs boycotted.
“It feels like war has been declared,” said Alexander Cherkasov, head of the Memorial human rights organization. “Nobody sewed on the yellow star. The new law, to extend the metaphor, says: ‘We’ll shoot you even if you’re not wearing a yellow star.'”
The proposed rules would make it illegal for NGOs that receive funding from U.S. citizens or organizations to participate in “political activities” or otherwise threaten Russia’s national interests.
They would also ban Russian citizens who hold American passports from being members or leaders of “political” NGOs, including local branches of international groups, which could see their assets seized for breaking the law.
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In what may or may not be taken as a preview of U.S. policy toward Russia under President Barack Obama’s second term, Amb. Michael McFaul gave quite a tepid description of the Magnitsky Act to an Interfax journalist today:
Q.: The U.S. State Department’s approval of the ‘Magnitsky list’ has drawn an extremely harsh reaction from Moscow. Is it true that Washington may extend this list by putting on it officials involved in the Leonid Razvozzhayev and/or Pussy Riot cases?
A.: There is a fundamental misunderstanding about this issue. Let me try to clear it up. We have a presidential decree that’s built on a set of regulations that the State Department already had in place, the Bush administration put them in place, we then strengthened them under President Obama. And I can send you the link, so you could have it.
So the secretary of state and the State Department and the U.S. government, the executive branch of the government is already empowered by President Obama to deny visas to all individuals from all over the world, not just Russia, if we assessed that they have grossly violated human rights of individuals. It’s already in place. And it is a long, long list, by the way. There is a notion that it’s just about this one case, just about Russia. It’s a misconception. So the powers to do that are already in place. What we don’t do is we don’t publish these lists. There is a reason for that. Because we believe in the rule of law. You do not have a right according to the American constitution to come to my country. It is not your right, according to our constitution. It’s a privilege. Just the same it is a privilege for Americans to come to Russia. And your government gets to decide who comes to and who doesn’t. By the way I think you decided that Mr. Browder can’t come to your country, the Russian government decided. It is the sovereign right of every country.
As Vladimir Putin settles into his third term as president, government corruption is running rampant. Putin is steadily cutting back on his people’s most basic rights — and Russians are finally saying “enough.” As the opposition movement gets off the ground, international efforts to discourage Putin’s government from squelching political dissent are critical. Unfortunately, however, a recent article by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signals that the United States may be preparing to forsake that role.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Clinton makes the case that Congress should repeal the Jackson-Vanik law, which was passed in the 1970s to hold the Soviet Union accountable for restrictions it placed on its citizens’ right to emigrate. Her argument, however, intentionally misstates the nature of Congress’s position on repealing the law. Jackson-Vanik “long ago achieved this historic purpose,” Clinton writes. “Now it’s time to set it aside.”
Suggesting that Jackson-Vanik’s mission has concluded, or describing its repeal as a simple trade issue, is disingenuous spin. No one is opposed to repealing Jackson-Vanik on economic grounds. Everyone would welcome the increased trade that lifting the law could provide. Jackson-Vanick, however, is a law intended to promote respect for human rights in Russia. Congress is deeply opposed to repealing Jackson-Vanik without replacing it with effective human rights legislation that meets today’s circumstances. Clinton, on the other hand, would apparently prefer that human rights issues not enter the conversation.
But the discussion of Jackson-Vanik cannot be separated from the increasingly authoritarian drift of Russia during Putin’s 13 years in effective control of the country. Putin has methodically removed every force in society that could challenge his hold on power: He has taken control of the national television channels, destroyed all real opposition parties, and dominates the Duma, Russia’s parliament. His party also effectively controls the judiciary and other branches of law enforcement — it can obtain any ruling with only a phone call. It set up youth groups that draw their members from small towns within driving distance of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and indoctrinated its charges at state expense in outrageous nationalism, anti-Americanism, and pro-government dogma. When needed, it buses in crowds of duly indoctrinated youth to intimidate foreign diplomats, human rights defenders, and anti-corruption activists.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin called the controversial death of an anti-corruption lawyer in Russia a tragedy, but said Moscow would retaliate if the U.S. Congress used the case to penalize Russians for alleged human rights abuses.
Speaking to reporters at the end of the Group of 20 summit in Mexico on Tuesday, Putin said Russia did not think the matter prompted by the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky, 37, deserved the attention it was getting in Washington.
A U.S. Senate committee plans to vote next week on a bipartisan proposal to deny visas and freeze assets of Russians linked to Magnitsky’s death after he spent a year in Russian jails.
Magnitsky worked for the equity fund Hermitage Capital in Moscow and his case spooked investors and blackened the nation’s image abroad.
The Senate version would also include human rights abusers “anywhere in the world,” a provision some say could keep Russia from feeling singled out but would also be difficult to implement.
A House of Representatives committee approved its own version this month.
Putin said Russia would reciprocate if the full Congress were to act.
"As far as this law linked to Magnitsky's tragedy is concerned, if it will be passed, so be it," Putin said.
"We do not think that it (situation around Magnitsky) deserves such an attention from the Congress, but if there will be restrictions on entry to (the) U.S. for some Russian citizens, then there will be restrictions for entry to Russia for some Americans," he said. "I do not know who needs it and why, but if it happens it happens. The choice is not ours."
Magnitsky was jailed in Russia in 2008 on charges of tax evasion and fraud. His colleagues say those were fabricated by police investigators whom he had accused of stealing $230 million from the state through fraudulent tax returns.
The Kremlin's own human rights council said last year that he was probably beaten to death.
Putin and Obama discussed the Magnitsky bill on Monday at the Mexico summit, U.S. envoy to Russia Michael McFaul said.
The Obama administration says it understands concerns of the bill's sponsors about rights abuses. But it says the bill is unnecessary.
The White House is anxious to keep the push for sanctions on rights abusers in Russia from slowing efforts to get congressional approval of "permanent normal trade relations" with Moscow this year.
Those efforts are also under threat by U.S. lawmakers unhappy with Russia's support for the Syrian government in its bloody crackdown on a revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
A Senate panel on Tuesday postponed by one week a vote on a measure to penalize Russian officials for human rights abuses, a bipartisan bill opposed by Russia and facing resistance from the Obama administration.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had been scheduled to vote on the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act” at a meeting on Tuesday afternoon. But the bill was taken off the agenda after Democratic Senator Jim Webb requested a delay.
“Senator Webb supports the premise of the Magnitsky Act, but has concerns about some of the language in the current draft and has asked that the bill be held over so that he can more closely examine it,” Webb’s spokesman, Will Jenkins, said. He gave no details.
Democratic Senator John Kerry, the committee chairman, said the bill would be taken up at the panel’s next business meeting on June 26.
The legislation is named for a 37-year-old anti-corruption lawyer who worked for the equity fund Hermitage Capital in Moscow. His 2009 death after a year in Russian jails spooked investors and blackened Russia’s image abroad.
The measure would require the United States to deny visas and freeze the assets of Russians linked to Magnitsky’s death, as well as those of other human rights abusers in Russia. It passed a House of Representatives committee this month, but no action has been taken in the Senate.
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NEXT week Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama will meet again. In July 2009, the only time the two have met before, Mr Putin—then Russia’s prime minister, now its president—gave the American president an earful on the insults Russia had suffered from America. Mr Putin thinks that the conciliatory steps he took in his first term, especially after September 11th 2001, encountered American aggression: the “orange” revolution in Ukraine, Western support for Georgia’s Mikheil Saakashvili, a missile-defence system. As Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, says, Mr Putin is “sincerely anti-American,” not because of his KGB past, but because of “his experiences with Bush-era America”.
The “reset” by the Obama administration in early 2009 was meant to respond to this by letting bygones be bygones. Mr Obama and his advisers, who included the present American ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, hoped that the reset would return the focus of relations to the countries’ shared interests. It coincided with some achievements: a new treaty reducing nuclear arsenals, greater co-operation on sanctions against Iran, an agreement to allow supplies for the war in Afghanistan to pass through Russia and Central Asia. The then Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, has even described the past three years as “the best period in US-Russia relations in history”.
But is it over? It was never clear if Moscow really believed in the premise of the reset. For many in the Russian foreign-policy establishment, says Angela Stent of Georgetown University, the reset was a one-sided “course correction,” in which Washington came to understand that it had not been treating Moscow properly. Moreover, Mr Putin cannot resist—now, as ever—forceful and confrontational gestures, such as his hostile speech at a security conference in Munich in 2007 or his attempt to blame Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, for the winter protests in Moscow. Changes in bilateral relations have been largely cosmetic. And that has added to the frustration over, for example, Mr Putin’s backing for Syria’s government or a senior Russian general’s statement that the country did not rule out the possibility of a nuclear first strike against missile-defence sites.
The spirit of co-operation that the reset was supposed to engender is being tested by the grim news from Syria and fresh talks on Iran’s nuclear programme in Moscow next week, as well as by the meeting between Mr Putin and Mr Obama on the margins of the G20 summit in Mexico. The most immediate issue is Syria. The Americans and Europeans want Russia to support a managed transition, in which President Bashar Assad would leave power but some of the underlying structures linked to his rule would remain in place. Yet Moscow is resistant to anything that resembles regime change, and is also more pessimistic about what might follow Mr Assad. Moreover Russia’s continued intransigence on Syria, says Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group, has value merely by giving the Kremlin a central part in resolving the crisis. The Russians know that if they give in to Western pressure on Syria “their role deflates considerably”, as the situation would no longer be under their control.
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The United States House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill on Thursday to impose sanctions on a group of Russian officials connected to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian anti-graft lawyer who died in a Russian prison.
Magnitsky was arrested in November 2008 on charges of tax evasion, days after he accused Russian state tax authorities of participating in a $230 million tax refund fraud. He died a year later in a Moscow pre-trial detention center.
According to the US Committee of Foreign Affairs, the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 will impose “sanctions [visa ban and asset freeze] on those responsible for the harassment, abuse, and death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was murdered during his investigation of corruption in the Russian government.”
The bill was introduced in April, by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission co-chairman Jim McGovern.
The opponents of the bill expressed fears that the new legislation would have a negative effect on the US-Russia relations, and could harm US exports to Russia. The U.S. National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) urged the Congress on Wednesday to oppose the bill.
According to the NFTC President Bill Reinsch “The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act is seriously flawed.” He adds that “This legislation would harm U.S. relations with Russia and many other nations, and would jeopardize the significant benefits arising from Russian concessions during its WTO accession negotiations.”
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The House Foreign Affairs Committee marked up a bill today to punish Russian human rights violators, moving that bill closer to passage in conjunction with another bill to grant Russia privileged trade with the United States.
Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) convened her committee on Thursday morning to approve the House version of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, legislation meant to promote human rights in Russia that is named for the anti-corruption lawyer who died in a Russian prison, after allegedly being tortured, two years ago. She and her committee counterpart Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) said during the markup they both support joining the Magnitsky bill with a coming bill to grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status, which would include a repeal of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, established to punish Russia for not allowing Jews to emigrate during the Soviet period.
“The entire world knows that the state of democracy and human rights in Russia, already bad, is getting worse,” Ros-Lehtinen said at the markup. “Moscow devotes enormous resources and attention to persecuting political opponents and human rights activists, including forcibly breaking up rallies and jailing and beating those who dare to defy it. Instead of the rule of law, Russia is ruled by the lawless.”
The Obama administration is publicly opposed to the Magnitsky bill, especially the effort to connect it to Jackson-Vanik repeal, and has been working behind the scenes with bill sponsors such as Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) to alter the legislation. “From our point of view this legislation is redundant to what we’re already doing,” U.S. Ambassador Russia Mike McFaul said in March.
One of the administration ideas is to expand the Magnitsky bill to deal with human rights violators from all countries, but doing so wouldn’t eliminate strong Russian objections to the bill. A short amendment added to the House version today by Ros-Lehtinen makes clear that the bill is directed only at Russia.Cardin even came up with a new draft version of the legislation in April. The Cable obtained an internal document showing exactly what changed in the bill. For example, the new version makes it more difficult to add names to the list of human rights violators that the bill would create, potentially softening the bill’s impact on Russian officials.
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The U.S. administration will no longer seek to prevent Congress from passing a bill targeting human-rights offenders in Russia, a step that President Vladimir Putin has warned would spark retaliation and damage ties.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee will today consider legislation that would impose U.S. travel and financial curbs on any official abusing human rights in Russia, including 60 people suspected of involvement in the death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow jail in 2009. This will be followed at a later date by a vote in Congress on the measure.
“You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would bet against Congress expressing their concerns on the Magnitsky matter in some way,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said today in Moscow. “It’s important to work with Congress on an appropriate mandatory response to that.”
President Barack Obama’s administration is seeking to repeal trade restrictions with Russia to prevent U.S. companies from being penalized once Russian membership of the World Trade Organization takes effect later this year. A bipartisan group of senators has made a repeal of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment conditional on imposing sanctions on Russian officials for human-rights violations.
Such a law would be “a gross interference in Russian internal affairs and, of course, it won’t have any positive effect on U.S.-Russian ties, to put it mildly,” Konstantin Dolgov, the Foreign Ministry’s human-rights representative, told reporters in Moscow on May 15. Russia in April warned it would retaliate with unspecified measures against the law.
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